How I'm fighting depression with exercise
Nancy Klinger works out with her fellow Tri Challenge participants in Atlanta.
April 20th, 2012
12:00 PM ET

How I'm fighting depression with exercise

Nancy Klinger is one of seven CNN viewers participating in the CNN Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge. Klinger applied to the Challenge after experiencing various personal setbacks, including a separation from her husband of 26 years.

Depression is a challenging, albeit important, discussion. It is even difficult to write about.

I am one of many who occasionally suffer from depression. It is usually just a minor case of the blues, but on occasion it turns into all out sadness - so much so you ache.

You purposely stay away from things that make you happy, you don’t like yourself, and you cry a lot (when you’re alone). You hate yourself for feeling badly while really being so incredibly fortunate.

My guess is that this fact would be a shock to the great majority of people who know me or work with me because I hide it so well. On the outside, I am always thought of as the happy one, the positive one, the person who is always smiling. If I were in a beauty pageant I would be in the running for Miss Congeniality!

On the inside, my life is filled with pain and emotions that are either incredibly high or incredibly low. It’s exhausting.

Last year when my husband and I separated, my world seemed to spiral downward; the sadness seemed to be overtaking me. There were no more ups, only downs. Time spent with a therapist did some good, but when the recommendation was made that I consider a low dose of an antidepressant, I needed to decline.

I am as stubborn as they come and felt that I needed to work through this on my own.

Fast forward to the CNN FitNation Triathlon Lucky Seven. In 150 days from today I will be participating in the Nautica Triathlon in Malibu with six incredible teammates. Being selected to participate was indeed a blessing. From the start, I began exercising on a regular basis and slowly, but surely, my mood started improving.

With great help and support from a wonderful trainer, I get assigned a schedule for each day through a website called TrainingPeaks.

I started setting goals for myself, something that I have always shied away from, probably for fear of not achieving them. I started sharing my goals with others to hold myself more accountable. I started feeling better about myself, about life. My Fit Nation teammates slowly became my soul mates.

Other positive things started to happen. To get everything done that needs to get done each day, I started to compartmentalize parts of my life. My week is scheduled to make sure that I can get all my training done without negatively impacting the other important aspects of my life.

I leave the house early one to two days a week for a morning swim workout. I run at work some days during lunch. I set aside time to read two nights a week. Long bike rides are done on weekends. Cleaning the house and outdoor chores are now done on set days, rather than me freaking out about it on a regular basis.

I know that may sound funny but a lot of people probably know what I mean. Sundays are now my “no shower” days, and I try my best to leave my car in the garage. Time is set aside for volunteer activities. My life now seems to have a good and healthy rhythm; I am calmer and more relaxed.

The exercise feels more like habit - a good habit.

Over the past several months, I have recognized and acknowledged many things about myself and my life. I am starting to realize that it is okay to be happy and it is great to have goals.

The finish line of the triathlon, for me, will be the starting line for the next part of life’s journey, and I am looking forward to it!

soundoff (142 Responses)
  1. Betty

    My depression improved greatly once I eliminated all grains from my diet and started eating low carb paleo... an amazing transformation for me.... there is nothing essential in whole grains and dropping them was easy... I think some depression, like mine, has a strong dietary component. The US Gov., ADA, AHA, USDA are all telling us to eat foods that are making our nation fatter, sicker, and more depressed. Humans need protein, lots of healthy fats and can tolerate only a small amount of sugars (all carbohydrates are sugar) Ever since the low fat high carb diet has been pushed on us, we have deteriorated.

    April 23, 2012 at 06:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • assmuffin12

      Oooooh yes, must be the devil grains causing depressun. Get rid of them then wr can all be happy!

      April 23, 2012 at 08:09 | Report abuse |
    • Nate

      Funny you say that, because the body runs on sugar (glucose). The benefits you have seen from your new diet are likely more to do with decreasing your overall calorie intake and less to do with decreasing carbohydrate. Take a look at this article just to get an understanding of why our bodies NEED carbohydrates....http://www.appliedfitsolutions.com/articles/the-truth-about-carbohydrates

      April 23, 2012 at 10:09 | Report abuse |
    • Crocky

      @Nate, I definitely agree with you that we need carbs, though I get most of mine through fruits and vegetables.

      Isn't it ironic that this poster claims that by cutting carbs, his/her depression went away, but carbs are the main fuel for the brain?

      I swear, some people are just plain silly. Balance is essential in ANY diet, and that includes carbs, fats, AND protein.

      April 23, 2012 at 11:21 | Report abuse |
    • B

      Keep it up, Betty. Eventually the science supporting the damage that high carb diets cause will be well known.

      April 23, 2012 at 14:29 | Report abuse |
  2. Jessie

    Congratulations on your sticking to a workout program. I have never been clinically depressed but I do find exercise is a major mood elevator, with many, many other positive benefits. I'm sorry you are getting a lot of negative comments from people who say exercise does not help with severe depression. That may be true. However, it does seem that these days a lot of people with mild depression are on antidepressants yet do not exercise at all. Most of my female friends, in fact, are taking something to "take the edge off" and most of them never exercise. I cannot understand how a doctor would prescribe medication, with all of its side effects, before prescribing exercise, or at least prescribing them in combination. Exercise can't hurt, and it offers so many other benefits besides helping mood (through real, chemical changes in the brain), such as increased energy, better sleep, increased strength, balance, increased bone density, increased metabolism, cardiovascular benefits, stress relief, weight loss, higher sex drive, etc., as well as a better self-image. Antidepressants alone can't do all that. Many people do report exercise helping with depression and studies show that it works. It may not work for everyone, but for anyone to dismiss it before trying it (for a sustained period of weeks, not just one horrible trip to the gym) and to go straight to antidepressants is really missing a great opportunity to be healthier and happier. Your story is a great example of exercise helping. Keep up the good work.

    April 23, 2012 at 08:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Crocky

      And people don't even need to go to the gym to get the exercise that helps with mood. I work out at home, just dancing to music for my cardio and working with resistance bands for strength training. In fact, the strength training for me is more of the mood elevator, because after busting my butt (sometimes literally) working on building muscle, it just feels like I did something productive for myself.

      Stress management has also been MUCH easier since I added daily morning workouts to my routine. I now can't imagine starting my day without them!

      April 23, 2012 at 11:25 | Report abuse |
    • JCMZ


      I agree although I am terrible about it. One of the first things that my therapist asked me – and continues to remind me about – was did I exercise regularly. I have chronic depression and have fought going on meds. I take them now because they are necessary for my situation, but I am increasing my exercise. He is a big proponent of a well balanced life of proper diet, proper rest, reducing stress, talk therapy, and exercise. I am striving to be better at all of those, and I am a work in progress.

      Thank you for confirming what the author wrote. I agree with her also. She never said that exercise was the great panacea. She stated that it worked for her and it works for many others. For some, it may not help at all, but it is worth a try. Used in conjunction with other methods of treatment it could do wonders for those of us who suffer from depression.

      April 23, 2012 at 11:43 | Report abuse |
  3. Joann

    This article was another confirmation of what I'd already experienced myself. My daughter was married in a beautiful wedding just this past September. My significant other, who had become like a father to my daughter, was a big part of that wedding as well. It was such a special weekend filled with so much love. But Monday morning, just 36 hours later, I awoke and found him dead from a heart attack. In just a split second, the amazing joy and love I was filled with, crumbled to enormous pain and grief. Just 4 years prior I had ended a marriage of 25 years. It was life changing and painful. And now I'd was being blind sided. For those first 2 weeks after finding him dead, I just got through my days. Went to work and felt like I was carrying on pretty well as if nothing had happened. But the minute I got in my vehicle at the end of the day, I did nothing but cry. I went home and crawled into bed for the next 12-14 hrs to escape the sadness. But after 2 weeks, I knew I couldn't allow myself to continue that habit. Being overweight myself, I knew I did not want my kids and grand kids to feel the sadness I was feeling by losing me sooner than they needed to. So the following Monday morning, I hit the gym. Carrying the extra weight that I was and having the cloud of sadness hanging over me, it took such effort in every step to walk into that gym and onto that eliptical. The first couple of days I could do no more than 10 minutes of exercise. Even walking from the car to the gym took SO MUCH EFFORT. But I stayed at it and continued to increase the time and level at which I was working out. Almost immediately I felt the the sadness easier to bear. As time went on, my emotions leveled off. I owe it all to the exercise and of course, healthy eating. 7 months later I now have the stamina to do 60 minutes bootcamps 3+ days a week and cardio workouts on the elipitcal at a level 14 for the other 3-4 days a week. And..... I've dropped a much needed 75 pounds. I have more to go but I just try to take it a day at a time. For anyone going thru similar sadness or depression, I encourage exercise. I know it's not easy. I know you feel like you can't do it. I know you have no energy. But just start with a few steps. Just take a few steps every day and before you know, those steps will become yards and miles. I'm an example that it can be done. I continue to find that anytime I'm feeling a little sad, breaking a sweat is the best thing to lift it.

    April 23, 2012 at 09:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Melanie

      Joanne, you should be very proud of yourself. I know it's a lot of hard work, but look at your results. I'm very sorry for your loss, but you are perfect example that life must go on, not just for you, but your family. Yes, it's easier to pop some pills, and dangerous in my opinion, but going your route is so rewarding. Best of luck to you!!!

      April 23, 2012 at 14:37 | Report abuse |
    • Alison

      Thank you for taking the time to share, Joann. Nancy's ongoing story is also inspiring, but yours resonates greatly with me–I suppose because, I, too am overweight. Where we part is, while functional, I have battled depression since childhood. Fitness has never been a way of life for me. Gosh–the corrolation seems like such a no-brainer! And yet, I resist. Anyway, your story adds merit to my theory that exercise may make a huge difference. I know my therapist thinks so.

      April 24, 2012 at 02:10 | Report abuse |
    • Joann

      Alison, I completely hear what you are saying. I can't express enough how much I understand how hard it is to make yourself get up and start moving. I fought it. I hated it in the beginning. But in just the first week, I could see small improvements in my mood. But remember, I also changed my eating when I started the exercising. I do my best to eat 'clean'. Very little processed food. And I feel better because of that. Is it always easy? Absolutely not!!!! When I don't feel like getting out of bed at 4:20am to get to the gym, remembering how much better I feel during the day gets me going and out the door. Just take one day at a time. That's what I try to do. Surround yourself with encouraging people. I've even pulled together 2 accountability partners that has helped my journey. Best to you, Alison!

      April 24, 2012 at 10:18 | Report abuse |
  4. Michizzle

    No kidding on the exercise! I hit rock bottom and became morbidly depressed. I've never felt that way in my life and it was really troubling. I decided to take the holistic route. I called a therapist immediately due to the nature of my depression, and my acupuncturist. Therapy was ok until she began to push the anti-depressants. I made it very clear that I am not being put on drugs and I'd prefer to work through the depression holistically, she didn't seem to register that. So, the acupuncturist gave me herbs and started a regime with me and I've improved dramatically, I've also started doing yoga about 3-5 times a week and walking/running. I credit my acupuncturist a lot to aiding me with this battle and working out has definitely made a huge difference. Good luck to anyone battling depression as this has been one of the most difficult obstacles I’ve had to tackle in my life. I would also advise holistic therapy vs. drugs as it is much easier to choke down some herbs and have a few needles in my back, instead of struggling with dosages and finding the right prescription which could take 6mos-1yr!

    April 23, 2012 at 10:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • KandyKane

      Where are you getting "six months to a year"? It can take as little as a few weeks to start feeling better on the right medication, and for many people, the first one they try does it.

      I'm not opposed to exercise to help with depression, but it doesn't work for everyone, and painting medication as a poor substi tute is just inaccurate.

      April 23, 2012 at 10:36 | Report abuse |
    • DEIN

      Can you explain the difference between an herb and a drug? You were adamant about not being on drugs but were OK with herbs. Why? If you are taking a substance into your body and expecting it to have mood altering properties, then are you not taking a drug?

      April 23, 2012 at 22:54 | Report abuse |
    • I call BS

      Great question. I'd love to see an answer, but I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts we won't get one.

      I love the "I hate chemicals and drugs, but herbs and plants are fab!" mentality. It's just so... hilarious.

      April 23, 2012 at 23:03 | Report abuse |
    • You two above me are idiots

      Wow! Really?! I'll give you two complete idiots an answer... What's the difference between a pill and an herb?!?! Well, a pill is created in a lab out of chemicals synthesized by scientists while an herb grows naturally on the earth. You know, just like a vegetable or fruit, or something your body NEEDS to live a healthy life. Natural alternatives (if there is one for your ailment) are always better than a man made chemical!!! You're a complete idiot if you don't understand that and think that all these pills with 50 side effects are better for you! Keep putting garbage in your body morons... You're probably fat and unhealthy anyway...

      April 24, 2012 at 11:27 | Report abuse |
    • DEIN

      The person above me is either completely ignorant of how medicines are made, or just buys into all the advertising the "natural" medicine manufacturers do. Do you even realize most pharmaceuticals are derived from natural sources? Do you think that "herbs" are better for you just because the manufacturer says so? Keep in mind, since they are not regulated by the government, they do not have to list the possible side effects and they do not have to prove they are useful for anything. Also, keep in mind that the placebo effect is quite powerful, and as long as what you are buying says "natural" on it, it will probably help people like you.

      April 24, 2012 at 13:22 | Report abuse |
    • DEIN

      Now, don't get me wrong, there are plenty of supplements that do provide benefits and are safe to use, it's just that the logic that herbs are good, drugs are bad is flawed on many levels. People don't take the time to think about where prescription medicines come from. Like the name calling poster above me, they think that pharmaceuticals are the brain child of some mad scientist. Most often, that is simply not the case, and the poster above displays a lack of knowledge about the issue while at the same time hurling insults like "idiot".

      April 24, 2012 at 13:31 | Report abuse |
    • I call BS

      I hate to break it to you, but chemicals are chemicals, whether they occur naturally in plants or are manufactured. Too bad the knucklehead here is you, The Two.

      April 24, 2012 at 19:24 | Report abuse |
    • You two above me are idiots

      The difference is you trust people with profit motive... I trust nature...

      April 30, 2012 at 23:22 | Report abuse |
  5. Anne

    Many studies have found that exercise works as well as medicaation in mild to moderate depression. I worked for many years as a psychiatric nurse, and was appalled at the tremendous amount of medications used. There are many side effects, and it takes the responsibility of dealing with your issues away from yourself, and onto a pharmaceutical company. Commercials on TV want to make us thing there is a pill for everything. Sometimes medication can help, but how many people are told "You need to take this for the rest of your life". Big Pharma loves that kind of statement

    April 23, 2012 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. JC

    I suffered from depression for decades and got doped up by doctors time and time again and to no avail. One day I gave up all meds (yes, without consulting anyone) started exercising (albeit a weak program at best) and, most important for me, dug into the Bible starting with Proverbs and Psalms and doing my best to live a good life....changed my life....took four years, but changed my life..today, I take aspirin on occasion and have not had a day of paralyzing depression since.

    April 23, 2012 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. FormerNYer

    Good Luck to you. I fight depression every day. I hope you win.

    April 23, 2012 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. James

    I have been on meds due to depression. But want to say, yes, exercise is a big mood enhancer and also, great for the heart, body and mind.

    I just walked up and down a steep hil today doing 9km. Not sure what that is in miles but did it with my dog. It was really great that he was able to keep up with me. Do exercise on a regular basis. Watch the diet. Try to cut out all processed foods and eat whole healthy nuts, beans, salad, fish, chicken and greens. Finding a work out partner is kind of tough, so thinking of putting together a site where people can find like people to work out in there area.

    April 24, 2012 at 00:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • rick

      9km is about 5.6 miles

      April 24, 2012 at 03:49 | Report abuse |
  9. Megan @ Fiterature

    Nancy – I am so glad to hear exercise has become a support system and life saver for you. No one ever regrets exercising once they've done it, in my experience. And from it we gain healthy minds, bodies and spirits. And meet some GREAT people along the way. Best of luck at Malibu – I've done that Tri and it's GORGEOUS. Don't forget to take a few moments to "snap" a few mental pictures along the course.

    April 24, 2012 at 10:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Toni

    I have been suffering from depression for what has to be 25 years. I continue with what I call "Emotional Cancer", on a daily basis. Medications help very little. Exercise is almost impossible with Fibromyalgia & chronic pain. Walking is the best I can do & even that sometimes leaves me in pain from head to toe. I own this depression. It has cost me a 30 year marriage, part of a long career, & with the loss of 2 very dear friends it is impossible some days to get out of bed. I am emotionally fragile with no end in site. I have been hospitalized which ended up making me feel worse. The loss of self esteem is devastating. I am not suicidal, but I do not feel compatible with life. When my husband left after 30 years to be with a younger woman, I lost my best friend. I lost my smile. My family is useless. Their abuse over the years has taken its toll. If exercise works for you, that's great. These days all I can do is go to work & come home to sleep. My home is in foreclosure, my finances are a mess. I haven't been able to go grocery shopping, or cook meals for myself. My home needs so many repairs that I can't afford. My daughter tries to help me, but I can't even pick up my mail anymore. I just pray every day that I can turn this around somehow. I have had Dr.'s & therapists without any luck. Even with health insurance mental health is costly. I have shut out most everyone so I can avoid the pain of loss. I work very hard & enjoy what I do. If that's as good as it gets for me, well, It will just have to be that way. I wish everyone luck in their quest to find a better life while living with emotional cancer. Like so many other diseases it remains a chronic illness. Please don't judge me, I have had a lifetime of that.

    April 24, 2012 at 13:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Meredith (The Original Six-Pack)

    Hello Nancy:

    From one Tri-Challenger to another, thank you for sharing your story. Depression has been a new battle in the days since we completed our triathlon. I, too, have learned that exercise is part of my prescription for health. You are kind and brave to share your experience here with so many readers. Best to you as you continue to train for the race. See you in Malibu!

    April 24, 2012 at 14:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Lauren

    Exercise has changed my life and brought me out of 15 years of depression and isolation. I now know who I am and love living every day! I tried gyms at first but I couldn't get myself motivated to go due to the depression. I started working out in my living room with short (20 min) intense dvd's. When I compared my options....sit on the couch and watch a show for 20 minute and still feel like crap.....or get up and kick my butt for 20 minutes and feel awesome the decision was simple and I kept making that decision every day. I want to help others make this change. Visit my site: http://www.simplifiedbeing.com

    May 31, 2012 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. yunasolon

    If people don't have the energy to leave their house and go to the gym, they can do a free workout from the comfort of their own home. You can walk in place, run in place, or jump in place. Start with the hardest (jumping) and go down one when you lose energy. Also, try resting or going at a very easy pace and then starting over from the beginning again as many times as you can. This method may also be called HIIT- high intensity interval training. This is the way that I'm getting intense aerobic exercise at home, when I found it too hard to go to the gym.

    And the benefits of exercise that helps me the most is having the energy to perform basic tasks of life when I was losing even that ability and knowing that I'll have mobility and energy into my old age by exercising.

    June 9, 2012 at 02:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Deya

    At the very beginning, with the stock mrkeat crash of October, 1929, a lot of middle class and poor people were not as hard hit, if they did not own stocks. Wealthy and upper middle class people were hit right away if they had a lot of money in the stock mrkeat.Often they lost their savings because they invested everything in stocks. But a lot of the south was rural, agricultural, and within a year or so, crops were not being sold because the people who would buy them were out of work. A lot of stores closed, a lot of businesses 'went under' and could not buy things in order to sell them. The people in the South were often more poor than in the North and once the depression hit hard, the men went trying to find jobs in cities, often not able to, because factories were closing, etc. Really the South was no different from the rest of the country, except, like parts of the midwest there were a lot of people who lived in rural areas.It was really only after we got into World War II and there were factories and bases opening in the South that the economy had any hope. I don't know if Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, etc. were hit by the "Dust Bowl" drought which was during the time of the Depression. Texas, considered part of the South, was very hard hit by the Dust Bowl Drought, as were many midwestern and western states. During that time there were huge dust storms on the Plains and areas went for years in some cases without rain. Was this answer helpful?

    July 1, 2012 at 05:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Zebulon

    Exercise has always been a great way to overcome depression and anxiety. I will suggest everyone to perform exercise to overcome depression and anxiety.


    August 8, 2012 at 02:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Rachael

    I have struggled with depression for the last 15 years on and off. Once I decided to change my life and add fitness and healthy eating into the mix it was nothing but GREAT! I still have challenges with motivation but generally fitness/exercise is a very good medication for depression, thank you for sharing your honest story with us.

    March 25, 2013 at 20:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. mortenhamre

    Excercise definately helps with depression, since it elevates mood. I think its important to do cardio and especially when your on medications, even though you cant push yourself as hard because of the sedating effects of the SSRI. http://www.bettermedicine.info

    March 13, 2014 at 17:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Dam

    Hello I am Dam
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    July 22, 2014 at 22:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Leena brit

    This blog is very nice. It encourage to people for exercise or positive. And it is the best way to keep distance maintain with Depression.
    Take free online depression test

    March 30, 2015 at 05:22 | Report abuse | Reply
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